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Ozzie Guillen, Communications, and Global Sensitivity

​The recent fallout from Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen’s comments to Time magazine reportedly stating that “he loves (former Cuban dictator) Fidel Castro” and “respects the retired Cuban leader for staying in power for so long” set off a firestorm of criticism from the Cuban community and led to a five-game suspension.

So, how did we get here? Aren’t we allowed to state our opinions in the Unites States? Yes, but that’s not the point. It goes deeper than that. I want to make clear that this is not a political discussion. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Guillen’s comments is irrelevant to this particular blog post.

I believe that the quotation attributed to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is key: “… baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities … I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game’s many cultures deserve.”

In short, especially when you are perceived as a leader in a community with a large Cuban population, speaking about Mr. Castro in general can cause tension and criticism. It’s tremendously important that you know your audience.

It’s vital that, as leaders, we are sensitive to these types of topics and leave the personal feelings as just that – never to be made public and potentially cause people to correlate your personal opinions to that of the company you represent. To further illustrate, AvePoint is a global company with 25 offices spanning 5 continents. While there are some of us that may have particular preferences and political points of view, it’s vital that we are sensitive to the type of message that we’re bringing to market. The global nature of the SharePoint community brings about tremendous opportunity to experience vibrant cultures and diverse ways of life. With that opportunity, however, comes great responsibility.

Sometimes, a message that wouldn’t cause anyone to blink an eye in North America could be seen as highly offensive in another region. It’s vital that as communicators and particularly those who are crafting content and messages for a worldwide audience, we are cognizant of how these messages are portrayed globally.

For AvePoint, that sometimes means that we tweak our messaging depending on where the content will be made public. Does it mean we change the entire message? No. But it does mean that we keep a close eye on the customs and specific needs of our regional markets top of mind. It may cause us to do more work at times, but I can assure you that it’s less effort than any foray into crisis communications requires.

The adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is a fallacy. Words hurt, and even those with the best intentions can cause tremendous pain and anguish. If we’re not careful about this, at best the members of the SharePoint community may think that we are not truly in touch with the local market in play. At worst, we could be seen as callous and cruel.

To conclude, I just have a couple of points with which to leave you:

1. Stick to what you know best. If it’s baseball, then just talk about baseball. If it’s data protection strategies for Microsoft SharePoint, then just talk about that particular topic. It’s best to leave world politics to politicians – we wouldn’t want them trying to make grand claims about SharePoint, would we?
2. Keep a close eye on the trends and needs of regional markets. At AvePoint, we hold regular meetings with our colleagues in our regional offices to figure out the key customer challenges, needs, and assess how messages are resonating. We can’t all be experts in every nuance of global culture, but we can take the time to speak with those who have a more intimate understanding of their respective local markets.

Do you find this to be a challenge? How do you navigate this delicate balance of consistent global messaging with tailored content that best meets the needs of particular regional audiences?

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